Sales and Sales Management Blog

July 23, 2012

Sorry, Buddy, But Your Best Just Isn’t Good Enough

Filed under: sales,selling,team development — Paul McCord @ 10:05 am
Tags: , ,

I have received several email responses to my recent The Value of Fear post that have been very critical of my position that fear not only is a great motivator but that sellers need to experience failure in order to learn to fear it.

A good many of the emails chastised me for suggesting that sales leaders should allow sellers to experience failure.  Rather their position is that the sales leader should be doing everything possible to help sellers avoid failure in order to help them grow their self-confidence and that they should never criticize a seller’s failure but in all cases be encouraging and supportive.

The implication is that if one criticizes then by definition they are not supporting the seller.

That position, I believe, has more to do with Political Correctness than reality—and does far more to destroy the seller, the sales leader, and the company than whatever good some mushy soft hearted encouragement in the face of failure can ever do.

I’m not saying encouragement is bad.

I’m not saying that helping a seller to find some positive in failure is bad.

What I am saying is that protecting sellers from the consequences of their failure is bad.

Sellers need to feel the pain of failure and if we try to soft-pedal their failures into some weak, fictional success we’re setting them up for even more profound failures in the future.

Worse, we could be setting them up for the ultimate failure of getting hit out of left field with the disturbing news that they no longer have a job.

Let me relate a brief email exchange from the past week:

Me (to a sales leader who had emailed me with his disagreement with my post on fear): So all of your conversations with you salespeople are 100% positive even when they have failed?

Sales Leader: You misunderstand.  They never fail.  When they don’t succeed they learn something.  There is no such thing as failure.

Me:  How can you not discuss their failure with them so that they understand the real meaning of it, that is, that it is more than a learning opportunity, it is a missed sale that hurts them, the company, and even the prospect?

Sales Leader:  It is never about failure.  It is never about pain or hurt or missed opportunity.  It is about a positive experience—they saw a prospect; they made a presentation; they learned something new.  Talk of fear and failure and pain and missed opportunities kills the spirit and I want my people to experience nothing but good, to feel good about themselves and what they are doing.

Me:  What happens to those salespeople who don’t have enough successes to meet quota?  What do you do with them after they’ve missed quota time after time?

Sales Leader:  Well, certainly there are some that we have to part ways with, but that’s just one of the unfortunate parts of business.

Me:  So you’re giving these people positive feedback, telling them to continue doing their best and all will be good, never letting them know failure, and then out of the clear blue one day you say, “Hey, buddy, your best isn’t good enough.  We have to let you go?”  Is that fair to the seller?

I haven’t received a response yet from the sales leader.

Sellers need to experience the consequences of their actions—both positive and negative. 

Sales leaders need to communicate honestly with their charges and that includes letting them know when they failed, why they failed, and what their failure means.  Trying to sugar coat failure, trying to protect the delicate feelings of sellers will eventually do far more harm than good.

We grow through our experiences–all of our experiences, good and bad, success and failure, those we are proud of and those we aren’t.

Overly protective sales leaders need to learn to let go and let their salespeople know the real pain of their actions, as well as the success. 

And ultimately maybe the desire to protect sellers from experiencing the consequences of their failure says more about the sales leader than the seller.
Connect with me on Twitter: @paul_mccord

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7 Comments »

  1. i’m with you. you can’t sugar coat everything all the time. leading people to believe that they’ve never failed is actually setting them up for failure. everyone fails at something, if you want to call it a “learning experience” that’s fine, but at the end of the day, failure is failure. salespeople needs to learn to come to terms with it.

    Comment by leadershiptrainingandconsulting — July 23, 2012 @ 10:55 am | Reply

  2. Leaders who do not have the courage to provide candid and honest feedback to those they lead are setting themselves up for failure. Today we have a significant lack of candor in the workplace and it leads to those “out of the blue” discussions. Teaching your team to perservere through their failures, bad decisions and missed opportunities is a key element in their and your development. If there is no pain from my failure, why would I work to avoid it?

    Comment by Eric Olson — July 23, 2012 @ 4:35 pm | Reply

  3. I think the responses show the difference between leading or managing. The response you quote in your artlcie is a manager while the comments are from leaders. A leader will get the employee motivated to work for them because the employee will want to get the job done right (by learing to overcome failure) but a manager will try to manage the process, not the employee. Managing can work…..if the manager is a leader. I learned alot by failling, and not chalking up failures to the law of numbers. Nice article, sir.

    Comment by David Albrecht — July 23, 2012 @ 9:30 pm | Reply

  4. Finally someone who gets it! Congrats on having the courage to speak the truth. The attitude you have been getting is the same attitude we see in our schools. No one fails. Everybody is doing all they can. In a recent article on my new site, I call it sales management courage. It’s what the Lion was looking for in Oz. We should be doing the same. Failure is part of our profession just as is rejection. We must conquer these in order to be resilient, determined and effective. Being held accountable and thereby learning from mistakes may not be PC but essential for long term success. The best swords are forged in the hottest fire. Keep up the good work and hold firm.

    Comment by GJB — July 24, 2012 @ 7:16 am | Reply

  5. I am with you. We are not all “special” just because we get up in the morning. Fear is a very necessary emotion that has always been the great motivator. Frankly, we as a species would not even exist today without it. Not only is this not a negative view, fear is not a negative emotion. It pushes us out of our comfort zone. When we are faced with discomfort, we are motivated to not only survive but to thrive. Why else would we bother?

    The differentiating factor is how we as individuals choose to react.

    Comment by irishbosschick — July 24, 2012 @ 8:13 am | Reply

  6. There is also solid science that explains how some people are more motiviated by loss (prevention) and others by gain (promotion), see this book http://www.amazon.com/Succeed-How-Can-Reach-Goals/dp/1594630739

    Comment by Giri Fox (@girifox) — July 29, 2012 @ 6:31 pm | Reply

  7. [...] Must-Read Post: Sorry, Buddy, But Your Best Just Isn’t Good Enough [...]

    Pingback by The Top 100 Web Resources for Managers | Hook, Line & Sinker — November 12, 2012 @ 9:05 am | Reply


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